The Southern Highlands capital — Mendi — has turned into a battlefield in Papua New Guinea this week as supporters of different candidates for the regional seat went on a warpath.
The warring parties –– believed to be supporters of the incumbent governor against the other regional candidates –– shut down the town on Thursday and during the mayhem, raided the Mendi police station and set fire to regional ballot papers.
Police Commissioner David Manning directed police in Mendi to arrest one of the candidates who was suspected of being behind the problems in Mendi and the counting.
Manning said he had ordered the arrest of the candidate following the ransacking of the Mendi police station in which the remaining ballot boxes for the provincial seat were removed from the containers and burned to ashes.
“I have directed the apprehension of the candidate [named] for questioning in relation to the incident at the police station,” Commissioner Manning said.
The mayhem was the culmination of frustration that have been built over weeks into the on-again off-again counting of the regional ballots that has dragged on for weeks since counting started in mid-July.
Southern Highlands police confirmed that allegations over electoral fraud by counting officials have led to frequent disruptions and the PNG Electoral Commission must take a stand on this.
“The Electoral Commissioner Simon Sinai needs to clarify if the candidates should go to court to obtain a court order or not to stop the provincial returning officer from counting the disputed ballot boxes,” provincial police commander Superintendent Daniel Yangen said.
Superintendent Yangen joined candidates Peter Nupuri, Benard Kaku and Augustine Rapa in Mendi who are accusing the EC and its official on the ground in Mendi for the turmoil.
Nupiri asked Sinai to replace the election manager, Jimmy Alwynn, to take charge of the counting.
Prime Minister James Marape condemned the burning of the ballot papers, describing those involved as “constitutional terrorists” who would be hunted down by the police.
“Those responsible are not ordinary arsonists but constitutional terrorists who can enter a police station and burn ballot boxes containing the votes of the people,” Marape said.
“This is state property and such an act is one of terrorism,” he said, adding that he had asked the police to go into Mendi, conduct the investigation and arrest those responsible.
He said people in PNG cannot continue to take the law into their own hands and his government would strengthen the police and justice system.
“I will, in the first instance, ensure that Southern Highlands Province, Hela, Enga and other hotspots are attended to at the very earliest,” Marape said.
Ialibu Pangia’s Peter O’Neill blamed the chaos in Mendi on the government.
“This election has been a government-made shambles everywhere and democracy has been hijacked to make way for an autocratic style of leadership,” he said.
“I do not condone the violence in Mendi but I can certainly understand why it is happening.
“People are fed up with the way democracy has been cast aside by a power hungry few hellbent on seeking control at the expense of the people.”
O’Neill urged the Electoral Commissioner to reassert himself and take control of the Mendi counting room and ensure a fair outcome for the voters and candidates.
The destruction of the ballot papers has put an abrupt halt to the counting, which was heading into the elimination rounds.
Sinai will decide either to treat the Mendi situation as a “special circumstance” and declare the leading candidate as the winner or order a supplementary byelection.
“I will make a decision once I have gone through the report on the incident,” Sinai.
Republished with permission.